Lesser Demons, released earlier this year by Subterranean, is Norman Partridge's fifth collection of short fiction, following Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales (1992), Bad Intentions (1996), The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists (2001), and a revised version of Mr. Fox (2005). Filled to the brim with Partridge's signature hard-boiled horror, Demons includes the author's take on the weird Western tale, the werewolf story, the atomic fallout B-movie, and much, much more.
In today's installment of Interview 5.5.5., Partridge talks about the demons big and small that make up his latest short fiction success story.
BG: Previously we discussed Dark Harvest, which is a quintessential Halloween/horror tale. Now along comes Lesser Demons, which is a startling mix of hardboiled noir and horror. How did your approach to the stories in Demons differ from your approach to Harvest and your other work?
There’s a strong hardboiled vibe in Dark Harvest, but I’ll admit I amped it up in Lesser Demons. I knew that was the way to go after rereading the stories we’d be reprinting, and I decided to anchor the collection with an original piece that would work the same way. What I came up with was a novella called “The Iron Dead,” which channels everything I love about old pulp magazines like Weird Tales and writers like Robert E. Howard. Finding the right character was key – I knew I needed an anti-hero who’d take everything the universe could dish out and kick it back twice as hard. That’s what I was looking for in Chaney, a monster-killer with a metal hand forged in hell. And he did great, because I threw everything at him from Depression-era gangsters to a pack of mechanical vampires, and he didn’t quit.
What was the most difficult story in Lesser Demons to write, and why?
The toughest was “The House Inside,” but that was a result of the circumstances more than the story itself. My stepdad was hospitalized when I was working on it, and we didn’t know if he was going to make it or not. Looking back, I can see a lot of him in the story, especially in the main character. That may seem a little odd, because the story is about a plastic cowboy who inexplicably comes to life as a flaring sun finishes off humanity, but it put me in touch with a sort of quiet stoicism I needed. On a basic level, “The House Inside” is about a search for definable answers that may not be there, and what’s left for us in the absence of answers. The sad truth is that death works that way, too – which is why I have a tough time revisiting that piece.
Which one came the easiest?
“Durston,” a sardonic western about a gunslinger haunted by his partner’s ghost – maybe literally, maybe not. I wrote that one for an Ed Gorman anthology of hardboiled westerns in the Deadwood vein, and it was one of those stories that hit the page at final-draft quality. Which is kind of spooky, because that result seemed to mirror the inevitability of the tale itself.
Do you have a favorite in the collection? Is there one that seems to be emerging as a fan favorite?
I’ve received a lot of email about “The Iron Dead,” so I think that’s the fan favorite this time out. I sure had fun writing it. Personally, I’m happy with all the stories. If I had to pick just one, it would probably be “The Big Man,” a dark tale about an abused boy in the 1950s who meets up with an atom-age giant in the Arizona desert.
Chaney, from “The Iron Dead,” seems like a character tailor-made for a series. Any plans to write about him again?
Definitely. In fact, there’s a group of rabid pulp readers who’ll probably come to the house and rope me to my desk if I don’t do more Chaney stories, so a sequel is definitely in the cards. I’m working on one now.
Coming on Day Five: The Future of Norman Partridge